What is Xerophobia? (A summary)
In this we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Xerophobia.
Fear of dryness is called Xerophobia. It is type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
It is a very rare phobia. Someone suffering from it experiences extreme anxiety when exposed to dryness.
Sometimes, one can also suffer from intense anxiety when a thought of dryness crosses their mind.
If the anxiety worsens, they undergo full-blown panic attacks. This leads to one avoiding their fear stimuli, dryness.
The act of avoidance is repetitive because it eliminates anxiety and produces pleasant feelings.
Though, for the time being one feels nice, but in the long run it can have adverse effects.
These repeated acts of avoidance can turn into compulsions and one develops OCD.
According to the DSM-V, this anxiety and avoidance affects one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid encountering dryness by choosing to live in humid, tropical areas.
They will keep their skin moisturized with lotions and ointments all the time.
They will do work that produces sweat.
They won’t prefer air conditioning no matter how hot they feel because the cool air dries the skin.
Similarly, they will feel extremely anxious in winters and thus, migrate to hotter places. Though, they will avoid visiting desserts.
Xerophobia is an irrational fear of dryness. The name originated from a Greek word ‘xero’ meaning dry and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
It is one of the rarest type of specific phobia.
Symptoms of Xerophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Xerophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of dryness suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heart rate or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks he is around his fear stimuli, he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Xerophobia, being the fear of dryness is experienced by individuals in different ways.
One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Xerophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to dryness
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about dryness
- Unavoidable anxiety when thirsty
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding places or situations where one might encounter dryness
- Recurrent need to moisturize skin
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Xerophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Xerophobia
Xerophobia, like all other phobias has no known cause. In this phobia, one is fearful of dryness because of the unpleasant feelings it produces.
These types of phobias can be a result of a number of factors such as biological (genetics) and or environmental (past experiences or social learning).
Genetics refers to the genes and neurotransmitters in our body.
Someone with a family history of a phobia/mental disorder has a higher chance of having the same or different disorder in the future.
This is because the genes of the parents are transferred to their children, thus any alteration in the genes of ones’ parents is inherited by the child.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Xerophobia until and unless there is some trigger event.
This trigger event can be a past traumatic experience. For example, someone might’ve gotten sick or suffered from illness because of dryness.
Xerophobia can be a result of one’s fear for drought.
May be someone is afraid of dying because of famine and shortage of water that follows in droughts.
An individual can also get anxious when exposed to dryness because they fear they’ll die of thirst.
Thus, genetics and environmental factors, both play a significant role in causing Xerophobia.
Treatment of Xerophobia
Xerophobia, like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Xerophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lowers the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Xerophobia is defined as the irrational fear of dryness.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about their fear stimuli.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions.
Lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation sessions for 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Neuro-Linguistic programming (NLP)
It is a psychological approach that includes ways of trying to reach a personal goal.
It links language, thoughts and patterns of behavior learned through experience.
The key elements of NLP are action, modeling and effective communication.
It suggests that everyone has different ways of how they see the world.
By understanding a number of perspectives of others, patients who use NLP see the world through a combination of their personal views and that of others.
NLP therapists treat patients with Xerophobia by making them understand their thoughts, behaviors and emotional state.
By having an insight of the patients own ‘personal’ view of reality, they assist them in forming new, positive thoughts.
NLP helps the patient in improving his state of thoughts about other people by understanding their cognitive-behavioral patterns.
Like CBT, this form of therapy is also very effective.
This another form of treatment used with patients suffering from specific phobia or anxiety disorders. It is used with patients who know the cause of their phobia.
First, the therapist collects the patients’ history of different fears. They then identify the real cause of the particular fear/phobia the patient has.
They then discuss any new/latest event that triggered their anxiety and fear in the past few weeks.
People coming with specific phobias are told to imagine their distress causing stimuli.
The therapist then works with the individual in order for them to overcome their fear.
In the case of Xerophobia, the patient will be advised on how to overcome his fear of dryness.
They do this by creating a positive imagery for the patients’ feared stimuli.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Xerophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients suffering from this type of specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6-months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the wind around them, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills.
This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Xerophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while the person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about their fear stimuli.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Xerophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Paxil reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Klonopin are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
Whether the cause of Xerophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How is Xerophobia treated?
Psychotherapies like, CBT, NLP and or medicinal drugs are very effective ways of treating Xerophobia.
Q2) What causes Xerophobia?
A genetic predisposition and environmental factors are the reasons why one develops Xerophobia.
Q3) How is Xerophobia diagnosed?
Xerophobia is diagnosed by the help of DSM-V. According to it, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6 months accompanied by at least 3-5 physiological symptoms of specific phobias.
Q4) How common is Xerophobia?
Specific phobias are very common. Around 12-13% of the USAs population suffers from a specific phobia. However, Xerophobia is one of the rarest types of phobias.